Tamerlane (1336-1405)Tamerlane (1336-1405) - Also called Timur, he was a Central Asian conqueror during the Middle Ages who was of Turkic and Mongol descent; the product of the clash between Islamic and Mongol cultures.  Along those lines, he himself was a Muslim who envisioned the restoration of the Mongol Empire that Genghis Khan established.  To accomplish this, he founded the Timurid dynasty, which is named for him.  Although he failed to achieve his goal of uniting Asia under one kingdom, his dynasty was the most powerful Muslim empire on earth in his lifetime (the Ottoman was still in its infancy).  He was born in a region known as Transoxiana about 50 miles south of Samarkand.  At that time Transoxiana was under the control of the Chagatai Khanate (Chagatai was the second son of Genghis, and the kingdom he inherited was named for him).  Timur's father, Taraqui, was a lesser nobleman.  As a young man, he was permanently injured when he was shot by two arrows, one in the hand and one in the leg.  The hand injury caused him to lose two fingers, and the leg injury caused him to walk with a limp for the rest of his life.  These injuries earned him the nickname Timur the "Lame" or Tamerlane as he became known in Europe.  His rise to power is somewhat muddled by history (so I won't try to re-construct the exact events).  About 1360 he appears to have started gaining success on the battlefield as a military leader for the Chagatai Khanate.  What is known is that he was considered very intelligent, both intellectually and as a military tactician.  He also spoke Turkic, Mongolian and Persian, which were the three major languages of the region.  And finally, he was considered charismatic and highly ambitious.  While these might all be considered positive traits, he unquestionably had at least one negative; he was ruthless and cruel.  All these combined made it almost inevitable that he would eventually rule.


By 1370, he had become strong enough to overthrow the Khan and seize power himself.  But he refused to take the title of "Khan" (because it was not clear he was descended from Genghis).  Instead he adopted the Muslim title "Emir" and married a princess from the Chagatai family to strengthen his hold on power.  For the next 35 years (the entire length of his reign) he devoted his efforts to expanding his kingdom; pushing it north and west almost to the Caspian Sea, and south into Persia.  He developed a great rivalry with another Mongol, Tokhtamysh, of the Golden Hoard, and a direct descendant of Genghis.  They fought a decade long war which is named after each of them.  Timur was finally victorious in 1395 at the Battle of the Terek River.  Three years later he invaded India and conquered the Delhi Sultanate (although it would later recover under a new dynasty).  With the conquest of Northern India, many historians place Timur in the same category with the likes of Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan (although history has not bestowed on him the same level of fame as those two).  However, one area where he was unsuccessful was in China.  The Ming Dynasty had come to power in his lifetime and it considered the Central Asian kingdoms to be vassal states.  This did not sit well with Timur.  His response was to march an army against China in an attempt to conquer it.  But he uncharacteristically launched his campaign at the end of 1404, just as winter was beginning.  And it was an unusually harsh winter.  The 68 year-old Timur, weakened by age and years of war, could not survive the brutal weather and died in February 1405.  His men abandoned the campaign and returned to Samarkand.  It's estimated that his conquests led to about 17 million deaths, or roughly 5% of the world's population (at that time).  Babur Beg, the founder of the Mughal Empire in India, was a direct descendant of Timur.